Archive for February, 2019

The arrow tip marks the planned touchdown point of Hayabusa2.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST



Japan’s Hayabusa2 project to explore asteroid Ryugu is approaching the time for touchdown this Friday.

Northern hemisphere of asteroid Ryugu fills most of the image. The tip of the arrow indicates the intended touchdown point.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

White dot at the arrow tip is the previously deployed target marker.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

The team has just released images from last month’s BOX-B operation – where the spacecraft’s distance from the surface is kept at about 12 miles (20 kilometers).

That operation also has Hayabusa2 move in a north-south and east-west direction to observe the space rock from different angles.




Northern hemisphere

This was the first time the team captured images of the northern hemisphere of Ryugu. By acquiring data on the equatorial region of Ryugu, the southern and northern hemisphere an accurate global shape model for Ryugu can be created.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2325 duties.

Last posted imagery taken Feb. 14-15 comes from Sol 2320 and includes these photos:

Curiosity Navcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2320, February 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right A image acquired on Sol 2320, February 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right A image acquired on Sol 2320, February 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right A image acquired on Sol 2320, February 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A image taken on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries are ready to loft a robotic lunar landing mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Credit: SpaceIL

A recent Falcon 9 booster static fire test was successful and launch as a secondary payload is Israel’s shoot for the Moon payload, scheduled for this Thursday evening!

Israel’s SpaceIL mission to northeast Serenitatis is the continuation of an international effort “forward to the Moon, to stay!”

Oded Aharonson heads the science team and a description of the mission science can be found here at:

Distribution of the studied basins on Mars based on Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter topography (blue indicates high elevations).
Credit: Salese et al.



New research points to geological evidence supporting a planet‐wide groundwater upwelling on Mars.

This newly recognized evidence of water‐formed features significantly increases the chance that biosignatures could be buried in the sediment. These deep basins (groundwater‐fed lakes) will be of interest to future exploration missions as they might provide evidence of geological conditions suitable for life.

These views are contained in the paper — Geological Evidence of Planet‐Wide Groundwater System on Mars – published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Conceptual model, of Martian basins evolution and their relations with the groundwater storage, from the oldest (bottom) to the most recent stage (top).
Credit: Salese et al.



Deep closed basins

Most previous studies on Mars relevant groundwater have proposed models, but few have looked at the geological evidence of groundwater upwelling in deep closed basins in the northern hemisphere equatorial region, the paper explains.

Observations in the northern hemisphere show evidence of a planet‐wide groundwater system on Mars.

The elevations of these water‐related morphologies in all studied basins lie within the same narrow range of depths below Mars datum and notably coincide with the elevation of some ocean shorelines proposed by previous authors. The term called “Mars datum surface” refers to the average elevation on Mars.

Morphologies inside Crater #9. A large stepped delta can be observed on the northeast side of the crater. Possible shoreline indicated at −4,200 m (maroon arrows).
Credit: Salese et al.



The research, led by Francesco Salese of the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands suggests that subsurface aquifers in all basins might be interconnected.

“Nevertheless, the evidence obtained from this work is not enough to affirm with certainty the interbasins connection,” Salese and colleagues explain. “Our observations show that the extent of this aquifer is very significant and it leads us to support the thesis that it could have been planet wide.”

To review the paper — Geological Evidence of Planet‐Wide Groundwater System on Mars – go to:

Courtesy: Gateway Foundation


The Gateway Foundation has issued an informative and eye-catching look at a future vision.

Courtesy: Gateway Foundation

Courtesy: Gateway Foundation

Published on Feb 15, 2019, the video showcases the Von Braun rotating space station – the first commercial space construction project in history.



It will be serviced by the SpaceX Starship and be designed to accommodate national space agency laboratories, billionaires who want to own property in space, and space tourists.








Go to video at:

For more information on the Gateway Foundation, go to:

“Horning in” on an asteroid. Sampler horn will be used to gather up space rock material.
Credit: JAXA/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space


Japan’s Hayabusa2 team reports that the surface of asteroid Ryugu was not what they expected.

Because of this on-the-spot finding, the spacecraft sampler team carried out an experiment to see if Hayabusa2 could still gather material from the asteroid’s surface when they attempt the probe’s touchdown this Friday.

MASCOT en route to asteroid’s surface photographed by an optical navigation camera onboard the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The ONC-W2 is a camera attached to the side of the spacecraft and is shooting diagonally downward from Hayabusa2. MASCOT appears in the upper edge of the image.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators

Final test

Late last year, the sampler team conducted a final test before touchdown, firing an identical bullet to that onboard Hayabusa2 into a simulated soil of the surface of space rock Ryugu. The test evaluated how much sample would be ejected after the bullet’s impact.

Hayabusa2 operators expected the topography of the asteroid would be a powdery fine regolith. That was not found on the surface of Ryugu.

Rather, centimeter-sized or larger gravel was observed by the MASCOT and MINERVA-II1 rovers that landed on the asteroid surface.

Credit: JAXA

 Artificial gravel

“This is quite different from the prediction before launch, so it took time to investigate the safety of the spacecraft during touchdown. Additionally, it was necessary to review whether sample material would still be released from the asteroid surface as originally assumed,” as reported by a new Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 twitter posting.

The projector (barrel) and the projectile (bullet) below used in the experiment. As this is a flight spare, the shape and the material are all the same as those of onboard Hayabusa2. Credit: JAXA)

Credit: JAXA

Artificial gravel was prepared in collaboration with Professor Hideaki Miyamoto at the University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Engineering. By simulating properties such as strength, density and composition, Hayabusa2 researchers replicated a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, which is regarded as fragments of C-type asteroids similar to Ryugu.

The target was formed by stacking up the artificial gravel with a similar size distribution as that observed on the surface of Ryugu based on images from the landers.

Collided like billiards

Experiment results show that the fragments of gravel that were crushed by the bullet were released into the surrounding gravel where they collided like billiards to break up the material.

Target simulating the surface of Ryugu.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo

The resulting sample amount exceeded the initial assumption that would be released from the surface.

While the diameter of the collision site (crater) made by the impact of the projectile is smaller in comparison to that in a fine regolith layer, it was a sufficient size in comparison with the inner diameter of the open tip of the sampler horn, the team reports.

High-speed camera

Although the experiment was carried out in the Earth’s gravity, the images from a high-speed camera revealed that fragments of crushed powdery gravel can pass through the collection horn.

At the target asteroid, under microgravity, even more samples are expected to be introduced into the sampler horn, “meaning that if we land on a terrain similar to the simulated target, we can sample the surface of Ryugu,” the team adds.

“With test results obtained that exceeded expectation,” the twitter posting notes, “the sampler team celebrated for a good new year.”

To view the high-speed camera results, go to:

Credit: Lu Liangliang/CNSA


China’s future plans for the Moon include creation of an International Lunar Research Station.

Credit: Lu Liangliang/CNSA

In a February 12 presentation, China’s Lu Liangliang provided an overview of the status of the Chang’e-4 mission at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in Vienna.

Lu’s talk highlighted China National Space Administration (CNSA) planning under the title “The introduction of Chang’e-4 mission.” The charts presented give an overview of the vision of future Chinese lunar exploration activities.

Modular design

Regarding the International Lunar Research Station, Lu’s power points noted that the station is to adopt a functional modular design, making use of standardized interfaces to facilitate expansion and international cooperation with other nations.

Partners can jointly build lunar and lunar orbital infrastructure to achieve that cooperation.

Credit: Lu Liangliang/CNSA

Robotic exploration

As for future robotic exploration, Lu noted that Chang’e-7 will conduct a comprehensive survey on the Moon’s south pole to investigate the topography, material composition and space environment of the Moon.

Chang’e-8, in addition to continuing scientific testing, verification of key technologies will be carried out. Two to three missions are planned to be completed before 2030.

A new scientific data policy was released in 2016, with Lu underscoring that data on Chang‘e- 1, 2 and 3, as well as future Chang‘e-4, 5, Mars mission, and lunar samples can be applied.

Data policy

China’s scientific data policy is founded upon a basic principle: openness and sharing, Lu’s charts point out.

Under the title Management Organization, Lu’s charts explain that, on behalf of CNSA, the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center (LESEC) is responsible for the management of scientific data from lunar and deep space missions. China’s National Astronomical Observatory is responsible for receiving, processing and storing scientific data.

To review the complete power point presentation, go to:

Image shows the current Curiosity workspace. This is a block of more coherent bedrock, surrounded by rubbly terrain, with lots of small rocks, pebbles and sand.
Photo acquired by Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A on Sol 2318, February 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2322 duties.

“Our weekend plan brought us to a block of coherent rock, a treat after spending many workspaces in more broken up and rubbly areas,” reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Mars researchers have planned a 3-sol plan, with contact science, imaging, environmental monitoring and a drive.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Midland Valley

The Geology (GEO) theme group uplinked lots of contact science so they are ready to leave and drive to the next coherent block that has been identified in the distance – a target known as “Midland Valley.”

“Before leaving however, we planned contact science on “Ladder Hills,” a beautiful example of laminated bedrock,” O’Connell-Cooper notes.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will be used to determine the chemistry, to compare it to our other targets in this workspace “Gannet” and “Curlew.”

Also, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will take images of the laminations within Ladder Hills from two different angles – straight downwards onto the rock surface (the spot where APXS will also analyze), and from an oblique angle, ChemCam will acquire active LIBS (laser) analysis of Ladder Hills, in addition to analysis of “Fyvie,” a large pebble for comparison with bedrock targets, O’Connell-Cooper adds.

Curiosity Navcam Left A image taken on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Laminations in the workspace

The current plan features lots of Mastcam imagery.

Both Fyvie and the post-drive Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) target will be imaged, in support of Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) science activities. Two mosaics will focus on the laminations in the workspace, in the targets Ladder Hills, “Ladyburn” and “Loch Gelly.”

Multispectral documentation will be taken of the Curlew target, which was recently brushed.

Scuffing up sand

“Midway to our next stop at Midland Valley, we will stop at a small ripple field. Using Mastcam, we will image the undisturbed sand, before scuffing using the right wheel, back away a little, and then take another Mastcam image of the disturbed sand,” O’Connell-Cooper explains. “These images will be used to further characterize the physical properties of the sand in this area.”

Then the robot’s drive resumes, hopefully ending on bedrock for the weekend plan.

Curiosity Navcam Left A image taken on Sol 2319, February 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Post-drive duties

“Following the drive, APXS will do overnight measurements of argon in the atmosphere, as part of a long range experiment looking at changes in argon abundances and seasonal variations,” O’Connell-Cooper reports.

In parallel to the very full GEO plan, the Environmental (ENV) theme group also has a very full plan. The main ENV activity is a ChemCam Passive Sky observation, which measures the column abundance of water vapor, oxygen, water ice and dust in the atmosphere, and also gives researchers some idea of dust and water ice particle sizes.

“This is particularly interesting as we just had some regional dust storm activity on Mars, so there’s still quite a lot of dust in the atmosphere above the rover,” O’Connell-Cooper says. “For this reason, we’re also very interested in the two Mastcam atmospheric opacity measurements in this plan, which will tell us how much dust is still up there; recently, opacities have been trending down.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2320, February 14, 2019. MAHLI is on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Looking at clouds

ENV has planned some Navcam movies, as part of an ongoing campaign to examine martian clouds, their properties and abundances.

The “zenith” movie looks directly upwards to look at clouds and their direction, whilst the “suprahorizon” movie is targeted in a more horizontal direction, looking at clouds and variations in optical depth in the atmosphere above the north rim of the crater.

Movies and surveys

O’Connell-Cooper adds that ENV also planned Navcam and Mastcam “dust devil” movies and surveys, which measure the number, location, and characteristics of dust-filled convective vortices, which in turn tells us about surface heating, convection, and winds near the surface.

“These observations are targeted lower than the suprahorizon movies, to search for dust devils across the crater floor on the slopes of Mount Sharp,” O’Connell-Cooper notes. “Excitingly, this plan sees the very first use of Mastcam to take a dust devil movie, which will give color images and better resolution — although over a smaller region) — than Navcam.”

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has observed the landing site of China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe for the third time, capturing a much sharper view.

LRO passed nearly overhead the Chang’e-4 landing site on Feb. 1, giving a 0.85-meter per pixel picture of the lander and Yutu-2 rover (Jade Rabbit-2) from an altitude of 50 miles (82 kilometers). The view had close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA/Goddard Science Visualization Studio (SVS)

LRO officials said the rover was 95 feet (29 meters) northwest of the lander, but the rover had likely moved since the image was acquired. The LRO will continue to image the site as the lighting changes…and the rover roves.

Slant angle

On Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, the LRO snapped the landing site for the first and second time respectively, but both in a slant angle.

Chang’e-4 lander as observed by Yutu-2 rover.

China’s Chang’e-4 probe, launched on Dec. 8 in 2018, landed within the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon on Jan. 3.

Image of China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover taken by Chang’e-4 lander.


Chang’e-4 set down on a relatively small farside mare basalt deposit. Chang’e-4’s landing site was named Statio Tianhe by the International Astronomical Union.

In an interview with China Central Television (CCTV), Ye Jianpei, chief commander of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program said “the control and obstacle avoiding ability of our Chang’e-4 probe has been improved to meet the advanced world level.”

“This lays a foundation for our future landing on the Moon, no matter whether it will be on the South Pole or North Pole, or anywhere else, and I believe, for our future manned space mission,” Ye said.














Go to this video overview of the LRO observations of the Chang’e-4 landing site:

Also, go to this video that details the new names given to features at the Chang’e-4 landing site:





Hayabusa2 sampler arm operations.
Credit: JAXA/Screengrab Inside Outer Space


Preparations for touchdown of Japan’s Hayabusa2 on asteroid Ryugu are steadily proceeding.

Touchdown time on February 22 is around 8:00 am JST. The touchdown location is an area named L08-E1, just beside the location of earlier ejected target marker.

On the left image, this is location L08-E1, where TM is the target marker. The size of the spacecraft is shown in the lower left. Planned touchdown location on asteroid is marked with a red dot.

Credit: JAXA

Credit: JAXA

Credit: JAXA

“Because the width is only about 6 meters here, very precise navigation guidance is necessary, but our examination has confirmed that this is possible,” according to Hayabusa2 officials.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently briefed reporters on the plan ahead.

Here are some key charts regarding the mission and steps ahead:

Credit: JAXA